"Oh, S***!" Johnny screamed, leaping out of the squad almost before it stopped moving. He grabbed the biophone and drug box and began the slippery descent into the ravine.
Roy all but screamed into the CB microphone, "LA this is Squad 51! Engine 51 is in the ravine! Repeat, Engine 51 is in the ravine! Request multiple ambulances to this area!" He dropped the microphone and bolted after Johnny, barely registering LA's response.
The fog had cleared down in the ravine itself, and visibility was good. By some miracle, the engine had landed on its wheels, though its battered body showed ample evidence of a rollover. Johnny raced over and peered inside.
Mike Stoker lay limp in the driver's seat, his head thrown back against the headrest. Blood was pouring from a gash on the side of his head, and the side window was spiderwebbed with cracks.
Captain Stanley lay beside Mike, his head resting against the dashboard. The windshield was spiderwebbed, as was the back window. Unbelted, he had been tossed around like a rag doll. There was so much blood on his face Johnny could barely tell who it was.
"I can't find Chet or Marco!" Johnny yelled to Roy. "They must have been thrown clear!"
Roy began to answer, but then looked up. Johnny followed his lead, to see the med-evac chopper landing neatly on the edge of the ravine and Dr. Brackett jump out of it and begin to slide down the side of the ravine.
When he reached them, he said, "I recognised your locale - this is a dead zone for the biophone. What've we got?"
"It's the engine..." Roy said. "Mike and Cap are inside - we haven't located Chet or Marco yet."
"Make that just Chet," Marco gasped, walking over to them. He seemed uninjured, just breathing hard from the exertion of climbing the ravine. "We both got thrown clear."
"Here you are!" Chet cried suddenly, limping over. His leg was bloodied, but other than that he seemed fine.
Roy stayed to treat Chet and Marco. Johnny and Brackett set about freeing and checking Cap and Mike.
Once the twin firemen were free from the rig, Johnny and Brackett got down to the business of examining them.
Johnny cleaned Cap's face while Brackett checked Mike's injuries. "I don't like the position of that laceration," Brackett mumbled. "He hit the side window pretty hard."
"Cap hit the front and rear windows," Johnny said. "Pupils responsive, but sluggish."
"Equal and reactive here," Brackett said. "Let's get them into the ambulances." Once they were in the ambulances, Brackett ordered IVs.
Johnny rode with Chet and Mike, Brackett with Marco and Cap. Roy stayed till the crane arrived to lift the rig from the ravine.
Johnny stepped out of the ambulance and helped the orderly guide Mike's gurney out. The back of the other ambulance fairly blew open and Brackett's voice yelled, "Clear the way!"
Brackett was on the gurney with Cap, doing CPR as they raced him into the hospical. The last thing Johnny heard before they vanished through the doors was Brackett barking for paddles.
"Cap...." Johnny gasped.
Dix and Early were looking over Marco to make sure he was okay as Mike slept on in the bed. Marco looked over at his friend. "Will he be all right?"
"We don't know yet," Early said gently. "He took a hard crack to the skull. He definitely has a concussion, but we won't be able to tell the extent of it till he -"
"Well, well," Dix said suddenly, smiling. "Welcome back to the land of the living, Stoker."
Early turned as Marco smiled. Mike's eyes were open. Early smiled and moved to Mike's bedside. "Hi, Mike. How are you feeling?"
Mike looked blankly at him for a second, then said weakly, "Doctor... Early.... 'M at Rampart?"
Early nodded. "How are you feeling?" he repeated.
Mike looked around. "What'm I doin' here...." he asked, voice getting louder. "Last I remember, the rig went off the road -"
Early touched Mike's shoulder. "Mike.... this is important. Tell me how -"
Dix leaned over and smiled at Mike. He returned the smile. Still smiling at him, she said, "Joe, ask him while his attention is on me."
Early did - there was no response. His eyes widened. "You're right, Dix." He grabbed his prescription pad and wrote on it.
Early touched Mike's shoulder and showed him the pad. Mike's eyes widened and met Early's, alarmed realisation dawning in them. "No..." he said strangledly. "No... I... I can't, Doc!"
"Can't what?" Marco asked as tears began to stream down Mike's face.
"Hear," Early said softly. "Mike can't hear."
Marco stayed with Mike while Early broke the news to the congregated firemen in the waiting room.
"D-Deaf?" Johnny stammered, unable to believe what he'd just heard. "Mike's deaf?"
Early nodded. "We think it's from the concussion - his brain is swollen, pressing the part that converts impulses into sound against his skull. It should only be temporary, gone in a few weeks once the concussion fades."
Brackett came from Exam 4 at that moment. He was shaking slightly, and still in the jumpsuit that was covered with blood. Cap's blood.
"Cap?" Roy asked Brackett.
Brackett sighed wearily. "His heart stopped again. We've got him back..." Brackett rubbed his eyes. "He's comatose... Babinskis responsive... pupils responsive... all other tests positive... movin' him to ICU..."
Dix walked over and put an arm around Brackett's shoulders. "Come on, Kel - you need some rest."
He nodded and allowed her to guide him to the lounge. His eyes were already closing.
Mike slid out of bed. Nobody had told him anything about Cap. He found Dix's night replacement at her desk. "Excuse me - Sharon?" he asked.
She turned and nodded at him, saying something he didn't understand. Assuming she'd asked to help him, he politely asked for the number of Cap's room. She looked blank for a moment, then sighed and shook her head, saying words he couldn't make out. Mike silently cursed his deafness as he scanned her desk area. A file was lying beside her phone. He read the words upside down. H STANLEY 248 Mike nodded and thanked Sharon, then walked past her into the elevator.
Mike slid into Cap's room and his heart squeezed in his chest. Cap lay in the bed, hooked up to tubes and monitors, his powerful hands limp by his sides. His eyes were closed and his head was bandaged. Mike looked at the monitors, watching the steady blips on the heart monitor slip silently past.
Mike pulled a chair over to Cap's bed and sat down. "Aw, man, Cap," he said. "This isn't right. Come back to us. I deserve to be deaf - it's my fault we crashed, I should have paid attention - but you don't deserve this."
Dix came on duty hours later to find Cap's condition unchanged - and Mike asleep in the chair by his bed.
In the three weeks since the wreck, Station 51 got a brand-new rig, went through three engineers, and had to put up with Captain Hookraker. The atmosphere was tense, with little chatter and even less pranking.
Mike came to visit often. He was in two kinds of therapy. One helped him deal with the accident and quit blaming himself for the accident. It was not his fault that the road had been washed out and nobody had had the presence of mind to notify the fire department.
The other kind Mike took was occupational therapy, learning how to read lips and sign language. But when he visited, the look of crushing grief on his face whenever the others would scramble to answer a klaxon call he could no longer hear broke his friends' hearts.
It had become a ritual for the guys - every time A shift worked, they'd stop to see Cap before shift and after shift. When they didn't work, they'd take turns sitting by his bedside and talking to him until Dix would shoo them out - usually long after visiting hours were supposed to be over.
Roy, the lone songbird in the group, even sang to Cap when he was there alone. One day, just over three weeks after the crash, Roy came alone into Cap's room. The respirator and most of the other equipment had been removed. There was just the IV bags and he was on oxygen.
But Cap was still comatose.
Roy pulled the chair up beside Cap's bed and began to talk. He told Cap how Joanne was doing, Chris and Jennifer's latest escapades, station news, etc. And when his silences became many and long-lasting, Roy began to sing.
Roy sang a slow song off one of Joanne's albums she was always playing - Shades of Grey he thought the name was. Without missing a beat, he moved into one of those terrible showtunes of Chet's that had gotten stuck in his head. Then he began a Simon and Garfunkel song.
And an off-key voice attempted a harmony line.
Roy jumped to his feet, flushing bright crimson as his voice ended in a startled squeak.
Johnny was leaning against the doorframe, smiling his crooked smile. "Keep going, Music Man," he said. "You sounded great. Don't stop on my account."
"How long have you been standing there?" Roy demanded.
"Just a few seconds," Johnny admitted. "I keep tellin' you, man, we oughtta form a group -"
"-where I'd have to do all the singing," Roy interrupted. "I don't need that pressure - I've got enough to deal with!"
"Look, you wouldn't have to do all the singing! I'm more than willing to take voice lessons..."
"And you need them, all right..."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Johnny asked, temper rising.
"It means you wouldn't know a key if it reached up and bit you! You have a lot of love for music, Johnny -but no talent in the voice department!"
"Is that so? Well -"
"Would you guys shut up?" came from the bed. "Some of us are tryin' to sleep..."
"Sorry, Cap," they chorused automatically. Then they whirled to the bed, mouths dropping open. Johnny bolted for the door and Roy moved to Cap's bedside.
Brackett came from Exam 4, rubbing his neck. He hated emergencies with kids... especially when the parents were not able to be around.
"How'd it go?" Dix asked him.
"Well, he'll live," Brackett said. "That leg may have to be amputated though."
"Aw, poor kid..." Dix said sympathetically.
Brackett sighed in exasperation. "Dix, you would think a ten year old would know better than to try to pet a rattlesnake!"
Dix opened her mouth to respond to that but before she got a chance to, Johnny thundered up. "Doc! Dix! He's awake! Cap's awake!"
Brackett and Dix hustled Roy out of the room so they could examine Cap. After what seemed like an eternity, Brackett emerged - smiling.
"Well?" Johnny asked.
"He's fully alert. Some grogginess, but that's normal in cases like these. He remembers nothing of the crash, but that's to be expected." He chuckled. "You should have seen his face when we informed him he'd been sleeping for three weeks!"
That made Roy and Johnny smile.
Beth Stoker cheered as she set the phone down. She raced into the kitchen where her husband was peeling potatoes for dinner. "Mike!" she cried. Beth then swore to herself. She had forgotten. Moving into his line of sight so she wouldn't startle him, she touched his arm. Mike looked up at her and smiled. Beth said, "Cap woke up."
Mike's eyes widened. "He's awake?" he asked, to confirm what he'd just read on her lips. At her nod, he threw down the knife and half-peeled vegetable and pulled her into a searing kiss. Then he grabbed his jacket and car keys and bolted from the house.
Beth smiled and picked up the phone, finding Chet and Marco's numbers.
Minutes later, A shift came into Cap's room. He opened bleary eyes and grinned at them all. "Hey, hey, the gang's all here," he quipped.
Johnny, who had learned sign when he dated a deaf woman, interpreted for Mike since Cap's lips barely moved.
"How you doin', Cap?" Chet asked.
"Bout as well as can be expected," Cap replied. "Guess I was the only one hurt, huh?"
"Uhm... no," Marco said. "Mike was hurt, too."
"Mike?" Cap frowned, studying Mike. "You look fine."
After a moment, Mike smiled sadly. "I may look fine, Cap, but I'm not. I'm..." He paused, uncertain for a second. Then he just decided to say it. "I'm deaf, Cap."
"You're what?" Cap bellowed, trying to sit up. But muscles that had been still for three weeks didn't want to work right.
Johnny and Roy helped Cap sit up and Marco went to get Brackett to look Cap over. Cap was still going at the top of his lungs.
Mike stood there, watching Cap's astonished tirade, a smile playing on his lips. He decided to keep his secret to himself - he was beginning to hear some sounds. Once it returned a little more, he'd tell his friends.
Things were slowly getting back to normal - and not a moment too soon!
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